While I loved my first year of teaching, a lot of it was about being in survival mode. Plenty of teachers struggle at different times during the school year (even veteran teachers), but for new teachers, it can happen much earlier, and it can last a lot longer. So, having a support system in place for new teachers is key for helping them have a successful first year.
As the mentor teacher to a beginning teacher, you might be looking for some strategies to support a new teacher when his/her morale starts getting low. Let’s take a look at some ways you can help support a beginning teacher who is feeling the weight of the job.
Tip 1: Be someone your mentee can come to.
Having a respectful, trusting relationship is SO important when it comes to supporting a new teacher. Like any relationship, just having someone to talk to about a problem can make a major difference. Your mentee will feel supported knowing that he/she has someone who will listen, empathize, and help find solutions.
Tip 2: Be observant.
If you listen to and watch the new teacher, chances are that you’ll notice when the work starts taking its toll. If you see signs of burnout, take steps quickly to provide him/her support.
Tip 3: Help the new teacher find solutions.
You’re not there to be the fix-it-all expert, but your years of experience in the classroom are a real asset to someone struggling to figure it all out. As the mentor teacher, you can ask questions and provide suggestions to help the first-year teacher deal with the major struggles.
Tip 4: Perform some random acts of kindness.
This probably isn’t in the job description, but finding little ways to support the beginning teacher can really make him/her feel encouraged and connected. RAKs are especially fun to do during the first week of school, report card time, principal evaluations, and long stretches between days off. You can do it without breaking the bank! Some ideas:
- leave positive notes on his/her desk
- bring him/her a small treat to eat or drink
- give him/her a copy of one of your favorite read-alouds
- share the great things he/she is doing with your administrator
- send him/her an email appointment for something fun
- make sure his/her room parents know when his/her birthday is
- set up a potluck lunch with the rest of the team
- save him/her a seat at staff meetings
- check on your mentee during a parent-teacher conference he/she is worried about (if it’s going long, you can knock on the door with a reminder about that meeting that’s starting in 5 minutes)
Tip 5: Take a time out.
Encourage your mentee to take a break! It’s easier said than done, but we all need to hit the reset button once in a while. Order lunch in and sit outside to eat, volunteer to make some copies so he/she can leave before dark, or make plans for Friday happy hour and talk about something else besides teaching!
Tip 6: Take a time in.
Support the beginning teacher by spending a little more time together. You might plan next week’s lessons, grade assessments, grab materials from the reading room or library, cut out lamination while you watch something on Netflix, etc.
Tip 7: Celebrate the little things.
Sometimes you just have to throw your lesson plans in the air and embrace the chaos! Help your mentee find the humor and the joy in the little things. Encourage the new teacher to recognize and celebrate what is going well!
Tip 8: Ask for help.
You have a big role in the new teacher’s first year, but you aren’t the only part of the support system. If you see that the new teacher is having a hard time, and especially if you’re out of ideas, I recommend reaching out for help from the grade-level team, your lead mentor teacher, or your administrator.
You can also join us in the K-6 Mentor Teachers Community on Facebook to collaborate with other mentors!
Thinking back to your first year of teaching and what helped you get through it when you were feeling down can go a long way toward being the kind of mentor teacher you want to be. New teachers will really appreciate the little things you do to boost morale and support them through that first year!
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